Shoes for Outdoor Adventure
Wearing the right shoes ensures your comfort and safety when at Texas State Parks and natural areas, where terrain is variable. In this episode, "shoe guy" Sean Bibby of Whole Earth Provision tells us how to shop for the right shoes to help us safely navigate nature and walk comfortably.
UTTS S2E11: SHOES FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURE
[MUS—FORREST GUMP THEME]
[FORREST GUMP—08] I bet if I think about it really hard, I can remember my first pair of shoes…
Do you remember your first pair of shoes?
[FORREST GUMP—CON’T] Mama said they’d take me anywhere.
I’m not talking about the shoes you wore to church or school, but the shoes you’d put on after getting home from those places so you could go outside and play.
Mine were plain white canvas lace ups…
[FORREST GUMP—14] Those must be comfortable shoes…
…they were comfy enough… nothing special though…
[FORREST GUMP—CON’T] I bet you could walk all day in shoes like that and not feel a thing…
My feet would get tired…those shoes had no support...
[FORREST GUMP—CON’T] I wish I had shoes like that.
Lots of kids did; they weren’t designer or fancy or necessarily good for your feet, but they got the job done.
[MUS—GOT THAT OLD HAY FEVER]
My mother told me that when I put on my “play shoes” I’d sometimes whisper to myself: “What are we doing today?” I think I may have been talking to my imaginary friend, Cisco. At any rate, what I remember about that time is believing those well-worn, dirt-smudged shoes were my ticket to adventure.
The thing is, the shoes you wear matter, especially when your activities take you to our Texas State Parks and natural areas and even our national parks where the terrain in any of these places is variable… and wearing the right shoes ensures your overall comfort and safety.
In the podcast we learn how to shop for shoes that will help us to navigate nature safely and comfortably.
Stay with us.
From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.
Kitten heels and wingtips are better suited for an office environment than the outdoor environment. Shoes for walking or hiking trails or even spending time on the water or climbing up a rock face—if that’s your thing—are simple to find; but then what? How do you really know they’re the right shoes for you… as well as for the outdoor activities that you have planned?
[SEAN BIBBY] Well, the first step is to find somewhere where you can get some good advice. Because there are so many different brands and different styles of footwear. And frankly, different levels of quality.
That’s Sean Bibby. Sean’s a friendly, upbeat guy with a wide and ready smile. He’s a trim and fit 30-something with a closely cropped beard—his hair is just the right amount of tousled. Sean’s the community outreach coordinator for Whole Earth Provision Company in Austin. Before that he says he was one of their shoe guys.
When you get down to it, finding shoes that are the best fit for your feet is a thinking person’s game.
[SEAN BIBBY] Yeah, definitely. And it’s funny because, there’s art of the fashion, and then there’s the nuance of everyone’s foot… And there’s the type of activity that they’re going to do. And so, yeah, there’s a lot of different games at play, and you can’t really just say this is one aspect of shoes that I’m going to think about today in my purchase. It’s really a big, wholistic experience. Because everything comes down to what you’re wearing on your feet when you’re out in the wilderness or just on any adventure—even in town—it doesn’t matter.
[ROOM AMBIENCE] I met Sean on a warm fall afternoon at the store to talk about how to choose footwear for an active outdoor lifestyle.
To get to the store’s shoe department, we strolled past tents, backpacks, books, toys, clothing and assorted gear until we arrived at a couple of walls filled with men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. He told me that many of the folks he helped over the years take their shoes on far flung adventures around the world...
[SEAN & CECILIA] But, really, most of them are probably taking them to our great Texas state park system. You know, everybody’s got a favorite state park. And if you don’t, we have their guidebooks in our stores, and you can find one. And, we have shoes that are going to work at Mother Neff Park, and we have shoes that are going to work at Big Bend Ranch—and everything in between. Water shoes as well; serious backpacking trips. Or, maybe getting back into hiking for the first time in decades.
[Cecilia] Are there special considerations for different people? Say, like if they’re a beginner, or they have mobility impairment; they may be out of shape, or overweight. Does any of that come into play when choosing a shoe?
[Sean] Definitely. It’s all about the individual. You need, um, someone who’s trained in shoes and how to fit shoes. Someone who’s trained in how to anticipate what your adventure is going to entail. Because all size tens are going to fit differently from brand to brand, for example. You can feel the difference when you’re walking five miles in them. For sure. And that is a big deal. So, you want to pick something that fits right at first and that consistently, you know, supports your foot in the arch, the heel the width of the toe box, the height of the toe box…the ankle support. It’s a lot of different individual questions that…that really do kind of say: 'Ah…okay. I know exactly the shoe we should try on next; I hope that fits because that seems like it would be perfect for you.'
[Cecilia] And so how should a well-fitted shoe feel on one’s foot?
[Sean] Combined with the right socks…. That’s a huge part of this—you don’t want to have any slipping around. You don’t want your heels sliding up and down too much. You don’t want your toes moving forward when you’re going downhill. Hiking downhill is often what gets people in trouble in a new pair of shoes. And so, you want your foot to be generally locked in with not too much movement. You want to make sure you find a brand that works with the volume of your foot. Some brands have a bigger inside volume, and that’s going to work for some people; and other people are going to need that, maybe, narrower. Um, you want to be able to take your shoes off after four hours of wearing them the first day and not have any big hot spots. That’s what I kind of say.
[RAIN and HIKING ON GRAVEL]
To Sean’s point about people getting in trouble hiking downhill in shoes that have not been properly fitted... That happened to me on a hiking trip to Western Ireland, when our group tackled the Burren on an overcast and rainy day. Uphill I didn’t notice my feet slipping in my shoes, but I sure did on the way down. It was so steep it was terrifying—like walking down the side of a slick, 30-story building without a safety harness. My feet—and more specifically my toes—were killing me for the next few days, and by the time I returned to Texas, I’d already started losing toenails. Yeah, I know… too much information.
[ROOM AMBIENCE & NEIL & SEAN & CECILIA]
While visiting with Sean Bibby at Whole Earth Provision Company, a customer, Neil McCray, wandered toward us… no doubt drawn by the sight of Sean from whom he’s purchased shoes in the past…
[NEIL] Hi, how’s it going?
Neil is tall and lanky. That day he was dressed in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops; he had the look of a person who embraces all things outdoors. Neil told us he was planning a camping trip that would involve a good deal of hiking off the beaten path… and wanted to upgrade his shoe game for the occasion.
[NEIL] Yeah, we’re going to…uh…Guadalupe National Park. We’ll be out there. We’ll be out there two or three days.
[CECILIA] When you go shopping for shoes for your outdoor adventures. What are you looking for?
[NEIL] I’m generally looking for a shoe that’s going to hold up; definitely want to buy something that’s going to be a good investment. I’m looking for a good sole. Obviously, I think first and foremost after I find a shoe that I like, I want it to fit really well, especially if I’m going to do a lot of hiking in it. Because you’re gonna want to have room for your toes. You don’t want to be losing toenails, and you’re not getting blisters all over the place.
[SEAN] Neil you said you’re going out to Guadalupe Mountains? And you’re going to do some hiking…Do you have…uh…do you have backpacking plans?
[NEIL] Yeah. I think we’re going to be out in the backcountry; we’re going to do McKittrick Canyon, so we’ll be wandering back into the backcountry…
When buying performance footwear, especially hiking shoes, good fit means a comfortable and safe experience on the trails and off. Working with someone who asks the right questions will ensure you get that fit.
[SEAN] Okay. And…how do you feel about…uh…a tall…taller boot or a shorter boot? Would you rather have that ankle support of a... of a traditional high ankle boot?
[NEIL] You know, I’ve really moved towards…uh…a lot more towards trail running shoes with my lighter backpacking stuff…
And you need to be clear about what you want and what you know works for you.
[NEIL] So, I’d probably would go with something that’s a little bit lower, but maybe a little more rugged.
[SEAN] Okay. Well, let’s…uh…let’s look at some options. Uh, what about your foot? Have you had any issues with previous pairs of shoes? We don’t want to make the same mistake again here ...
Making the “same mistakes” when buying shoes brings me to my favorite made up word: Shoepidity: that is the act of wearing uncomfortable shoes just because they look good.
[SEAN] Let’s use a Brannock device and measure your foot so that we know, uh, that nothing’s changed since you’ve done this last. And, uh, you’re going to want to grab a pair of our “try on” socks since you’re wearing your flippy flops. So, you want to put that on the ground, and uh, try to put your right heel in here. Yep. And we’re going to slide this guy up here…get your first toe knuckle in the right spot. Look at your width...
A few measurements and observations later…
[NEIL] And then what’s this saying? I’m…I’m probably like a B or a C width?
[SEAN] Yeah. And that’s…and that’s pretty typical. And then I’m looking at your length here. And, uh…you’ve got a little bit of the Morton’s Toe, which I do, too. Which is, uh, where this second toe shoots out a little bit further than the big toe. And so that’s definitely going to put you in an eleven and a half. Uh, you’ll…you’ll be more comfortable in that than an eleven. So, I’m going to zip off to the back and get some shoes….
[JEOPARDY THEME SONG]
[SEAN & Neil] I’ve grabbed some eleven and a halfs… Low hikers. And I did bring one boot. I know you said that you have done some light hiking recently, and now you’re going to have…a maybe heavier trip. So, why don’t we try this on anyway, and see…just see how it fits. Just so…while you’re in the store, anyway.
[NEIL] Well, and I’ve got a lot of my heavier hiking width boots. So…so, it’s definitely not something that I’m against…
Something most of us do when buying footwear is to walk around the shoe department for a few minutes to get a sense of the shoe’s fit.
[WALKING ON INCLINE]
But Sean encourages Neil to go a step or two… or three… beyond that… He directs Neil to step onto a hand built wooden incline that’s about three feet long, a foot and a half wide and angled at about 40 to 45-degrees. So, it’s steep.
[SEAN & NEIL] Neil is on one of our inclines. And what this is going to help him simulate, is if he’s getting lift in the back of his heel to too much of a degree and if his toe is slipping forward. And I want him to go up and down it—both ways—and see if that’s…uh…uncomfortable or not. Because, like I said, going downhill sometimes can be a surprise at how difficult and uncomfortable it is, and you don’t want that.
[NEIL] I can feel going down that my toes are kind of sneaking right up to the front of the shoe. Uh, although this toe box feels really good. Nice and wide.
Over the next 45 minutes, and with Sean’s guidance, Neil tries on several pairs of hiking shoes and boots and gives them the walking and incline test.
Getting a good fit requires spending time making the best choice for you and your feet. The thing to remember is to not feel rushed…always take the time you need to make the right decision, even if that means walking out of the store without a new pair of shoes.
Because, trust me, you do not want to be on the top of a super steep hill… knowing you have to get yourself to the bottom, when your feet are already screaming in agony because you did not take the time to find the best fitting pair of hiking boots for your trip.
In the end, Neil found something that felt great on his feet, passed the incline test and looked good, too.
[CECILIA, NEIL & SEAN]
[CECILIA] So, do we have a sale here?
[NEIL] Uh, yeah. I’m pretty sold on these. These are pretty amazing.
[NEIL] Great fit. Fit good in the toe box. They feel like they’re super stable. They’ve got a lot of grip on the sole, which makes me feel like I’ll have a lot of confidence on the trail. And they feel like they’re gonna give me some support when my legs are kind of tired and I’m carrying a lot of weight. So, yeah. I dig ‘em.
[SEAN] I want to come on your trip with you (laughs).
[NEIL] Well, come on! (laughs)
Find a link to a list of Texas state parks and natural areas that offer a wide variety of hikes from family friendly to accessible to challenging at https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/parks/things-to-do/hiking-in-state-parks. And then get yourself a good fitting pair of hiking boots or shoes—and socks—and head to your nearest outdoor space and take ‘em for a spin.
[MUS—ORBIT YOUR SOUL]
And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available for streaming or download at UndertheTexasSky.org or wherever you get your podcasts.
Speaking of where you get your podcasts, we’d love it if you’d leave a review and let us know what you like and how we can improve.
We record at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.
Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing provide web and distribution assistance.
I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside when you’re Under the Texas Sky.
Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.
[SEAN] Everything comes down to what you’re wearing on your feet when you’re out in the wilderness or just on any adventure—even in town—it doesn’t matter.